Paganism not about bubbling cauldrons

By Missy Smith

Pointed hats, boiling cauldrons, high-pitched cackles, flying around the open sky on a broom. These are what most people envision when they think of witches, especially during the Halloween season.

Paganism is a broad term that encompasses many systems of belief. There is no one way to define it because each person follows their own set of beliefs and worships their own personal deities.

Pagans and Wiccans battle misconceptions every day, when in fact they are just average people.

David Kees, staff member in Engineering, said most Pagans are simply trying to get by in their job, support their family and friends, enjoy life and be happy.

“I try to stress that we’re not really all that different from the average person,” Kees said. “We just practice a different religion. This makes us no more evil or good than anyone else who practices a different religion.”

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Kees said he found his religion through a series of studies and eventually settled on Wicca after reading a book by Scott Cunningham.

Cunningham is an influential figure in Wicca, a subsection of Paganism, even after his death.

According to the Web site, Cunningham “viewed the craft as a modern religion created in the 20th century and thought that Wicca, while containing Pagan folk magic derived of ancient times, should be stripped of its quasi-historical and mythological trappings and represented to the public as a modern religion utilizing ancient concepts.”

These ancient concepts are what brought alumna Ashley Price into Neo-Druidism, the religion that she embraces.

“I firmly believed by the age of 8 that there was no way all the pre-Christian peoples could be wrong,” Price said. “When I was 11, I read ‘The Mists of Avalon,’ which introduced me to the idea of Druidry. After I researched a bit more, I realized that it described exactly what I believed.”

That quest for truth is what leads most people to convert to Paganism, including Tamilia Reed, graduate student and president of the newly formed Registered Student Organization, the Pagan Student Association.

“During my late teens, I became disillusioned with the religious tradition of my family,” Reed said. “Something was missing.”

A quote from “Hamlet” inspired Reed’s decision to pursue Paganism as a religion.

“‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,'” Reed said. “It resonated with me. In many ways, it served to further validate my search for a more rich and dynamic view of the divine and humanity’s relationship to that divinity.”

Reed feels that Paganism is the spiritual path for her because, while it may not answer every question she has, it encourages her to pursue answers in every aspect of life.

“Paganism doesn’t pretend to be the whole of everything or the only truth,” Reed said. “Seeking and understanding within and outside of its paradigm is encouraged and recommended.”

It is through this process of seeking and finding that many Pagans find comfort in their religion. Kees felt that before he found Paganism he had no true place in the world because he could not define his beliefs.

“I felt like I was somehow lying to the world around me because I didn’t know what religion to practice. I knew that I believed in God, so I wasn’t an atheist, but when someone asked me what religion I practiced, I couldn’t really provide an answer.”

Now that Kees has found Paganism, he said he feels more connected to the world and to divinity.

Sharon Cabana, graduate student, said she was born into a liberal Catholic family, but she believes that she has been a Witch her whole life, even though she officially converted only 10 years ago.

Cabana believes religion should be less about an official label and more about the faith and beliefs.

“I find strength … and a sense of peace,” Cabana said. “There were elements of my life as a Catholic that were very Pagan, I just didn’t know how to recognize it at the time.”

Still, there are misconceptions that exist in society that can best be corrected by doing research or just by asking questions, Reed said.

“Don’t rely on assumptions, preconceptions or antiquated prejudices,” Reed said.

Cabana further said not to believe everything you see or hear, and she gives her own personal advice for people to understand the Pagan religion.

“The best advice I could give people is not to believe everything you see on TV,” Cabana said. “We are not Satan worshippers. We don’t even believe in him. And we don’t fly (although that would be totally cool), boil children, or turn people to frogs. The best source of information is just talking to one of us. Most of us don’t bite, really!”